Choosing the Right School Curriculum

Education - Saigon/HCMC: March 28, 2016

The word curriculum is a bit daunting to non-educators. Sometimes it seems so vast that it encompasses everything and at other times it seems so vague it appears to be all fluff. So how do you tell which school curriculum in Ho Chi Minh City is right for your child?

Basically, each school’s curriculum defines what students are expected to understand in every subject area at each grade level. It provides the teachers with the path to what they are to teach, how they are to teach it and how they are to assess what the students have learned. Curriculums are aligned to standards and benchmarks, assessments and teaching practices.

Here in Ho Chi Minh City the international school market is dominated by three different systems of education: American, British and International Baccalaureate. No matter which of these parents choose, their children will learn mathematics, science, literacy and social studies. But there are differences with how they will be taught.

"Each school's curriculum defines what students are expected to understand in every subject area at each grade level"

Choosing the Right School Curriculum

As there is no national curriculum in America, each state is responsible for creating its own. Thus, American system schools overseas can vary greatly as they develop their own curriculum and are free to adopt standards and benchmarks taken from any of the 50 states. Many such schools will choose different subject areas from different states. For example, mathematics standards may come from California while those for language arts may come from New York. This gives the schools the flexibility to adapt to their student population, and also means that not all American schools are the same.

"Here in HCMC the international school market is dominated by the American, British and International Baccalaureate system"

British schools follow the United Kingdom national curriculum. This curriculum sets programs of study and attainment for students in four key stages. At the end of year 2, 6, 9 and 11 assessments are given to see how students are progressing against a set of standards. This prescribed curriculum was developed to ensure that all students learn the same content universally. The UK government does review and update the curriculum on a regular basis. As not all aspects of the British curriculum are relevant to international students it is not unheard of to have schools outside of the UK modify the curriculum to meet their needs or even adopt an international curriculum for their younger learners.

In 1968 a group of teachers got together to create a program with the hopes of providing students with a rigorous and comprehensive education, which would prepare them for the needs of a changing world. This became known as the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program (IBDP) and the IB was born. The IB is a different type of system. It is not a curriculum but rather a curriculum framework. This means that each IB school uses the IB’s outlined learner outcomes to develop its own. This can result in slight differences between IB schools. Currently there are four different programs in the IB primary years (PYP), the middle years (MYP), the diploma program (DP) and the career-related program (CP). As all of the programs are standalone, students do not have to complete the previous one in order to be successful in the next.

Quality schools have their curriculum - both written and assessed - reviewed by outside authorities on a regular bases. In America there are six regional associations who conduct such reviews. The British Government Department of Education has tasked Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education) to charge seven agencies with inspecting British Schools Overseas (BSO) against standards set for overseas schools. The IB reviews all schools before they are authorized to run any of the IB programs.

"The IB is a different type of system. It is not a curriculum but rather a curriculum framework"

Unfortunately, there is not yet a system that is perfect for every single student. There are many facets about a school which parents should look into before choosing, and the curriculum is just one of them.